Primary Culler: Green Leads in Public Advocate Race, But Can He Dodge a Runoff?


Mark Green was the first New York City public advocate — a sort of Mayoral VP and public busybody — and, after a two-term interregnum by Betsy Gotbaum, he looks good to become the third. But it’s not such a sure thing as it once looked.

When Green announced for the race he actually scared a couple of candidates off. July polls showed him with 37 percent in a four-way race.

But though the September 4 SurveyUSA poll shows him still at 37 percent, undecided have begun to decide, mostly for Brooklyn council member Bill de Blasio, who has climbed from 7 to 23 percent. And Green needs 40 percent to avoid a runoff election…

This is the sort of thing that motivates negative campaigning, and de Blasio has been strongly attacking Green in mailers (“Mark Green will do anything to get back in public office”) about his funding by big landlords, and the alleged malfeasances of his realtor brother Steven. (Steven Green also came up in a confrontation between Andrew Cuomo and our Wayne Barrett at Cuomo’s and Green’s last attorney general candidates debate in 2006.)

Green is certainly vulnerable to attack. While voters’ familiarity with him is an obvious asset, it may remind some that Green always seems to be running for something — and that he said he was through with politics in 2006. Some might also recall that Green was ready to allow Rudolph Giuliani to suspend the 2001 Mayoral election because of 9/11, and that when the election went ahead anyway, Green was unable to defeat an unknown billionaire Republican despite his ubiquity on the New York political scene.

Still, Green is known, Green is ahead, and Green has powerful Democratic friends; he’s shown on his campaign site with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Alec Baldwin, and Bob Kerrey, and is endorsed by everyone from Henry Waxman to Sarah Jessica Parker. de Blasio has some heavy endorsements, too, including the Working Families Party, New York Times, Mario Cuomo (who has worked the phones for his son’s former rival) and Ed Koch, but he’s still more a borough than a citywide figure. That plays to his advantage in a way, as no one is closely parsing his record on the council (or his stands that might be considered pro-developer), and when he gets in controversies they tend to be of the ridiculous sort.

Regarding Bloomberg’s term limits overthrow, Mark Green denounced it in his media outlets, and de Blasio actively fought against it in the council and in the courts.

There are two other candidates: Queens Councilman Eric Gioia, who has also gained a few points in recent polls, has been struggling for attention, particularly with his contentious remarks at the last public advocate candidates debate (“I’m running against some political insiders”), but not much succeeding (his counterintuitively-pronounced name may be a factor). Former New York Civil Liberties Union President Norman Siegel has a very distinguished record, a willingness to fight for causes, and the sort of gadfly temperament that’s seemingly made for the Public Advocate’s office, particularly as a check on our presumably unstoppable corporatist mayor. Naturally he is polling the worst of all four candidates.